Guide Prepared by Michael J. Cummings...©
Caesar is a stage play in the form of a tragedy centering on the death
of Julius Caesar and the downfall of one of his killers, Marcus Brutus.
Because the drama recounts actual historical events, it may also be referred
to as a history play.
Performance: Probably 1599 at the Globe Theatre.
Printing: 1623 as part of the First Folio, the first authorized collection
of Shakespeare's plays.
based the play on “Caesar," a chapter in Parallel Lives, by Plutarch
(46?-120?), as translated by Sir Thomas North from Jacques Amyot’s French
version. The French version was a translation of a Latin version of Plutarch’s
original Greek version. Shakespeare may also have borrowed ideas from Dante’s
Comedy (in which Brutus and Cassius occupy the lowest circle of hell)
and Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales (in which “The Monk’s Tale"
presents Caesar as a victim rather than a villain).
play begins in Rome on February 15, 44 B.C., and ends in Philippi, Greece,
in 42 B.C. when Cassius and Brutus commit suicide after battling the forces
of Mark Antony and Octavian. Part of the action is also set in the camp
of Brutus and Cassius near Sardis (in present-day Turkey).
of Brutus: Cassius
Caesar: Triumphant general and political leader of Rome. Although he
is highly competent and multi-talented, he is also condescending and arrogant.
In his conversation, he frequently uses the third-person "Caesar" instead
of the first-person "I" to refer to himself and also sometimes substitutes
the kingly "we" for "I." He depicts himself as a man of unshakable
resolve, but he proudly and recklessly ignores warnings about his safety.
Rumors abound that he plans to be crowned king. Historically, evidence
to support the view that Caesar sought elevation to a throne is inconclusive.
Brutus: Roman senator and praetor who helps plan and carry out Caesar's
assassination. Historically, Marcus Junius Brutus (84-42 B.C.) enjoyed
a reputation in his day among Roman republicans as a noble and fair-minded
statesman. However, his opponents—notably supporters of Caesar—regarded
him as a traitor. First, Brutus sided with Pompey the Great against Caesar
when the Roman Civil War started in 49 B.C. After Caesar defeated Pompey
at Pharsalus, Greece, in 48 B.C., he pardoned Brutus and appointed him
governor of Cisalpine Gaul in 46 B.C. and a praetor of Rome in 44 B.C.
But Brutus turned against Caesar a second time, helping to lead the conspiracy
that led to Caesar’s assassination in 44 B.C. Brutus believed the action
was necessary to prevent Caesar from becoming dictator-for-life, meaning
that all power would reside in Caesar and not in the delegates representing
the people. In Shakespeare’s play, Brutus’s nobility and idealism gain
the audience’s sympathy. But in the ancient Roman world of power politics,
characterized by perfidy and pragmatism, it is his virtues that doom him.
His downfall and death are the real tragedy of the play, not the death
Antonius (Mark Antony): A member of the ruling triumvirate after the
assassination of Julius Caesar. Marcus is also known as Mark Antony, or
simply Antony. He is cunning and pragmatic, a thoroughgoing politician
who can wield words just as effectively as he wields weapons. Antony is
a main character in another Shakespeare play, Antony and Cleopatra.
Cassius Longinus: Clever and manipulative senator who persuades Brutus
to join the assassination conspiracy. Unlike Brutus, Cassius is no idealist;
his primary motivation for conspiring against Caesar appears to be jealousy.
Though small-minded and mean-spirited early in the play, he later displays
courage and a modicum of honor on the field of battle.
Caesar (Octavian): Grandnephew of Julius Caesar and a member of the
ruling triumvirate after the assassination of Julius Caesar. Octavius,
also known in history books as Octavian, later became emperor of Rome as
Aemilius Lepidus: A member of the ruling triumvirate after the assassination
of Julius Caesar. Because he is weak, he is easily pushed aside.
Publius, and Popilius Lena: Roman senators. Cicero, a supporter of
republican government, is killed by the supporters of Caesar in the aftermath
of Caesar's assassination. However, Cicero did not take part in planning
or carrying out the assassination.
Servilius Casca: One of the leading conspirators against Caesar. According
to the Greek biographer Plutarch, Casca was the first of the conspirators
to stab Caesar, plunging a dagger into his back.
Conspirators: Casca, Trebonius, Ligarius, Decius Brutus, Metellus Cimber,
Cinna. (Note: At least 59 conspirators participated in the actual assassination
of Caesar in 44 B.C.)
of rhetoric who attempts to warn Caesar that Brutus, Cassius, and
others have turned against him.
who warns Caesar to beware of the ides of March (March 15). Shakespeare
does not name the soothsayer. However, in ancient texts by Plutarch and
Suetonius, the soothsayer is identified as an astrologer named Spurinna.
and an unnamed poet.
of Brutus and Cassius: Lucilius, Titinius, Messala, Young Cato, Volumnius.
of Brutus: Varro, Clitus, Claudius, Strato, Lucius, Dardanius.
of Cassius: Pindarus.
Characters: Senators, citizens, commoners, soldiers, guards, attendants,
Michael J. Cummings...©
play begins in 44 B.C. It is February 15, the day of the annual Festival
of Lupercalia, honoring Lupercus (also called Faunus), the Roman god of
fertility. On this special day, Romans performed rites to promote the fertility
of croplands and forests, as well as the fertility of women of child-bearing
age. The Romans also commemorated the legend of the she-wolf that nurtured
the mythological founders of Rome—Romulus and Remus, twin sons of Mars,
the god of war. It was in the cave of Lupercus, on Rome’s Palatine Hill,
that the wolf suckled the twin boys. Oddly, while glorifying the memory
of the she-wolf during Lupercalia, the Romans also gave thanks to Lupercus
for protecting shepherds’ flocks from wolves. In Shakespeare’s play, Lupercalia
takes on even more significance, for it is the day when mighty Julius Caesar
parades through the streets near the Palatine Hill in a triumphal procession
celebrating his victory over Pompey the Great in the Roman Civil War.
February 15, the day of the annual Festival of Lupercalia, tradesmen gather
in streets near the Palatine Hill in Rome to watch mighty Caesar as he
passes by in a procession celebrating his triumph over Pompey the Great
in the Roman Civil War. Two tribunes, Flavius and Marullus, reproach the
tradesmen for their adoration of Caesar. Marullus cries, “You blocks, you
stones, you worse than senseless things!" (1. 1. 27). Once upon a time,
he says, the populace gathered to cheer Pompey as he passed in procession.
Now, Marullus says, the same people are closing their shops to honor a
man who “comes in triumph over Pompey’s blood" (1. 1. 43). Flavius and
Marullus then chase the tradesmen home. The two tribunes distrust Caesar,
thinking him ambitious and covetous of kingly power. However, their efforts
against a handful of tradesmen do little to intimidate the thousands of
others gathered to applaud the great general as he and his entourage make
their way to the public games.
Antony, a military commander who fought against Pompey and later became
a consul of Rome, is “running the course," a Lupercalia ritual in which
the runner strips naked and races through streets with a thong cut from
a sacrificial goat. Along the way, the runner strikes any woman he encounters,
thus ensuring her fertility. Caesar tells him to be sure to strike Calpurnia,
the wife of Caesar, and Antony assures him that he will. From somewhere
in the crowd, a soothsayer cries out to Caesar: “Beware the Ides of March"
(1. 2. 23). When Caesar calls him closer, the soothsayer repeats his warning.
Caesar says, “He is a dreamer; let us leave him: pass" (1. 1. 30). The
soothsayer apparently knows what Caesar and his intimate friends don’t
know: that prominent citizens are plotting against Caesar and may act against
him one month hence, on the Ides of March (March 15), to prevent him from
centering all power in himself.
Caesar at some distance is Gaius Cassius Longinus, a former military leader
who serves as praetor perigrinus (a high judicial official who decides
cases involving foreigners). He is a ringleader of the disenchanted Romans.
Envious of Caesar’s power, Cassius tells another prominent citizen, Marcus
Junius Brutus—a former military commander who now serves as praetor urbanus
(a high judidical offical who decides cases involving Roman citizens)—that
Caesar has become much too powerful:
man, he doth bestride the narrow world
those accompanying Caesar on the festive day is Casca, a friend of Cassius.
As Caesar’s entourage leaves the games, Cassius urges Brutus to pull Casca
aside and ask him for a report on what Caesar and his friends did during
the games. When Brutus does so, Casca gives this account:
a Colossus, and we petty men
under his huge legs and peep about
find ourselves dishonourable graves. (1. 2. 143-146)
Antony offered Caesar a crown. Well aware that accepting it might anger
the crowd, Caesar refused it. Antony offered it two more times, and Caesar
twice more refused it—each time with greater reluctance than before. Then
he suffered an epileptic seizure but recovered moments later. Nearby, the
Roman senator Cicero (a political opponent of Caesar) spoke to his friends
about what had taken place, and they smiled and shook their heads. But
his comment was in Greek, and Casca did not understand it. At any rate,
one thing seems clear: Caesar wants to be crowned, when the time is right.
presses Brutus to take part in an assassination plot against Caesar. The
perceptive Caesar, meanwhile, smells trouble from Cassius when he looks
upon him. “Yond Cassius," he tells Mark Antony, “has a lean and hungry
look. / He thinks too much: such men are dangerous" (1. 2. 204-205). Cassius
works hard to win over Brutus to his deadly ways and, through crook and
hook, eventually convinces him that Caesar must die. Brutus is a sincere,
highly respected man of principle; if he says Caesar must go, Cassius knows,
other disenchanted Romans will surely follow his lead. Cassius is right.
After other citizens learn that Brutus has sided against Caesar, they decide
to follow his lead. On March 14, the conspirators meet in Brutus’s orchard
to make final plans to kill the Great One in the Capitol the next day,
the Ides of March. After the meeting, Portia, Brutus’s wife, notices a
change in her husband’s demeanor, saying “You have some sick offence within
your mind" (2. 1. 288), and prods him to reveal his thoughts. But Lucius,
the servant of Brutus, interrupts their conversation to present a visitor
Ligarius, and Portia leaves the room. Ligarius then pledges his support
for the plot against Caesar.
night is violent: Thunder booms, lightning strikes. Caesar’s wife, Calpurnia,
dreams that something terrible is about to smite her husband and begs him
not to go to the Capitol on the Ides. She tells him what she saw in the
lioness hath whelped in the streets;
says, “Cowards die many times before their deaths; / The valiant never
taste of death but once" (2. 2. 37-38). Thus, because he is not a coward
and because he does not fear death, which he says “will come when it will
come" (2. 2. 42), he refuses to change his plans. But after Calpurnia prevails
on him further, Caesar agrees to stay home, saying, “Mark Antony shall
say I am not well" (2. 2. 63). However, one of the conspirators, Decius,
comes to Caesar’s house while night yields to day and persuades him to
go the Capitol as planned, telling him that his wife’s dream was misinterpreted.
graves have yawn’d, and yielded up their dead;
fiery warriors fought upon the clouds,
ranks and squadrons and right form of war,
drizzled blood upon the Capitol;
noise of battle hurtled in the air,
did neigh, and dying men did groan,
ghosts did shriek and squeal about the streets.
Caesar! these things are beyond all use,
I do fear them. (2. 2. 21-30 )
image of blood she saw, Decius says, means “that from you [Caesar] great
Rome shall suck / Reviving blood. . ." (2. 2. 97-98). Caesar says, “How
foolish do your fears seem now, Calpurnia!" (2. 2. 115). At eight o’clock,
other conspirators—Cassius, Brutus, Ligarius, Metellus Cimber, Casca, Trebonius,
and Cinna—enter to escort Caesar to the Capitol. Caesar tells them he will
be speaking at the Capitol for an hour and says, “Be near me, that I may
remember you" (2. 2. 138). Trebonius replies, “Caesar, I will," then completes
his statement with an aside, speaking only loudly enough for the other
conspirators to hear: “and so near will I be / That your best friends will
wish I had been further" (2. 2. 139-140).
on the streets, Artemidorus, a teacher of rhetoric who has come into knowledge
of the conspiracy, is reading to himself from a paper. It says,
beware of Brutus; take heed of Cassius; come not near Casca; have an eye
to Cinna; trust not Trebonius: mark well Metellus Cimber: Decius Brutus
loves thee not: thou hast wronged Caius Ligarius. There is but one mind
in all these men, and it is bent against Cæsar. If thou beest not
immortal, look about you: security gives way to conspiracy. (2. 3. 3).......Artemidorus
then posts himself along the route to the Capitol to await Caesar. Nearby
is the soothsayer. When Caesar approaches, he tells the soothsayer that
“The Ides of March are come" (3. 1. 3), as if to point out that the day
of the dire events predicted by the soothsayer has arrived, but nothing
has happened. However, the soothsayer responds, “Ay, Caesar, but not gone"
(3. 1. 4). Artemidorus then importunes Caesar to read his message. However,
Decius Brutus also asks Caesar to read a document—a suit on behalf of Trebonius.
When Artemidorus interrupts, trying again to get Caesar’s attention, Caesar
becomes irritated and ignores him. He then enters the Senate building.
Metellus Cimber approaches him to beg mercy for his banished brother, a
pretense that allows him and the other conspirators to draw close in apparent
support of Cimber but, in actuality, to post themselves at dagger distance.
Caesar arrogantly rejects Cimber’s plea, saying the decree against Cimber’s
brother is final. Brutus, Cassius, and Cinna also speak up for Cimber’s
brother. But Caesar, comparing his own constancy to that of the North Star
(the brightest in the constellation of Ursa Minor) and his immovability
to that of Mount Olympus, brushes aside their pleas. Casca then stabs Caesar
and the other conspirators join in, stabbing him again and again. As he
dies, Caesar looks up and sees his old friend Brutus among the conspirators.
“Et tu, Brute?" (3. 1. 87), he says. (The words are Latin for “And you,
Brutus?") Obviously, Caesar is pierced to his heart with the knowledge
that the noble Brutus was among the assailants. After Caesar dies,
Cinna shouts, “Liberty! Freedom! Tyranny is dead! / Run hence, proclaim,
cry it about the streets" (3. 1. 88-89). At a suggestion of Brutus the
conspirators bathe their hands in Caesar’s blood so that they can show
the people of Rome that a tyrant is dead and liberty rules. Cassius thinks
the generations to come will remember them as heroes who liberated Rome.
Antony’s servant arrives with a message: Although Antony loved and served
Caesar, he does not love Caesar the dead man; he loves Brutus the living
man. Brutus, believing the message was sent in good faith, sends the messenger
back to tell Antony that Brutus holds no grudge; Antony may move freely
about without coming to harm. Antony himself arrives on the scene shortly
thereafter and shakes the bloody hands of the conspirators, saying,
am I with you all and love you all,
Antony, however, has no intention of allying himself with Brutus and Cassius.
Later, in the Forum, Brutus wins over a mob with a speech explaining that
even though Caesar had his good points he suffered from a fatal flaw, ambition—ambition
for power—that would have enslaved the citizens. Brutus says he had no
choice but to rid Rome of Caesar and thereby win freedom for everyone.
Antony comes forth with Caesar’s body, and Brutus tells the mob to listen
to what he has to say, no doubt expecting Antony to endorse the action
of the conspirators. Antony’s speech begins as if he indeed approves of
the assassination of Caesar: He acknowledges that Caesar was ambitious
and praises Brutus as noble. But Antony then begins to laud Caesar as a
man who promoted the people’s welfare:.
this hope, that you shall give me reasons
and wherein Caesar was dangerous. (3. 1. 241-243)
hath brought many captives home to Rome
shows the people the bloody garment Caesar was wearing when he died, pointing
out the slits opened by the plunging daggers. Then he discloses provisions
of the will: Caesar bequeathed the people seventy-five drachmas each and
left them his private walks, arbors, and orchards to use for their pleasure.
One citizen shouts, “Most noble Caesar! We’ll revenge his death" (3. 2.
222). Having lost the support of the mob, Brutus and Cassius flee the city.
Civil war erupts. On the streets, angry citizens attack a poet who has
the misfortune of bearing the same name as one of the conspirators, Cinna.
When he informs them that he is Cinna the poet, not Cinna the conspirator,
one citizen shouts, “Tear him for his bad verses, tear him for his bad
ransoms did the general coffers fill:
this in Caesar seem ambitious?
that the poor have cried, Caesar hath wept:
should be made of sterner stuff. (3. 2. 67-71)
forms a new government with two other leaders, Octavian and Lepidus; all
three share power. While Brutus and Cassius raise armies of loyalists and
make camp at Sardis (in present-day Turkey) on the Aegean coast, Antony
and Octavian lead their forces to Philippi (modern Filippoi), near the
Aegean coast in northern Greece.
Brutus has received word that his wife, Portia, believing all was lost
for her husband and herself, committed suicide by swallowing hot coals.
Messala, a soldier under Brutus, then reports that he has received messages
saying that Antony, Octavian, and Lepidus have purged Rome of their political
enemies, killing 100 senators, including one of the Senate’s greatest orators
and statesmen, Cicero, a proponent of republican government. Cicero played
no part in the conspiracy against Caesar; he simply had the misfortune
of being on the wrong side in Roman politics.
Brutus and Cassius confer on war plans, Cassius argues in favor of waiting
for the forces of Antony and Octavian to come to Sardis; the march will
weary them and make them easy prey. But Brutus argues for attack, noting
that the enemy is increasing its forces daily while the forces of Cassius
and Brutus are already at their peak strength and can only decline. Brutus
says, “There is a tide in the affairs of men, / Which, taken at the flood,
leads on to fortune" (4. 3. 249-250). Cassius yields, agreeing to attack
at Philippi, and the two men retire for the evening. During the night,
the Ghost of Caesar appears to Brutus, but Brutus does recognize it as
such. Identifying himself as “Thy evil spirit" (4. 3. 327), the Ghost says
Brutus will see him again at Philippi.
Philippi, Cassius and Brutus ride forth and meet Octavian and Antony for
a parley, but only insults come of it. Later, Cassius tells Messala he
has seen ill omens. Cassius says that
ravens, crows and kites,
armies clash, and the forces of Antony and Octavian eventually gain the
upper hand. When Cassius’s friend Titinius is captured, Cassius decides
it is time to end his struggle and orders another soldier, Pindarus, to
kill him—with the same weapon Cassius used against Caesar. Elsewhere on
the battlefield, Brutus orders Clitus to kill him, but he refuses to do
so. Brutus gives the same order to Dardanius; he also backs away. Before
asking a third man, Volumnius, to help him die, Brutus tells him that the
Ghost of Caesar appeared to him—first at Sardis, then at night on the Philippi
battlefield—an omen signifying that all is lost. He then asks Volumnius
to hold his sword while he runs on it, but Volumnius, too, refuses to be
an instrument in the death of his commander. Finally, Brutus talks a fourth
soldier, Strato, into holding the sword at the proper angle. Brutus falls
on it and dies. After Antony and Octavian come upon his body, they pay
o’er our heads and downward look on us,
we were sickly prey: their shadows seem
canopy most fatal, under which
army lies, ready to give up the ghost. (5. 1.97-101)
This was the noblest Roman of them all:
the conspirators save only he
that they did in envy of great Caesar;
only, in a general honest thought
common good to all, made one of them.
life was gentle, and the elements
mix’d in him that Nature might stand up
say to all the world ‘This was a man!’ (5. 5. 76-83)
According to his virtue let us use him,
all respect and rites of burial.
my tent his bones to-night shall lie,
like a soldier, order’d honourably.
call the field to rest; and let’s away,
part the glories of this happy day. (5. 5. 84-89)
Idealism exacts a high
price. Brutus has respect, a comfortable home, a loving wife, friends.
Yet he willingly risks everything—and ultimately
loses everything, including his life—to live
up to his ideals. This motif is a major one in history and literature.
Socrates took poison rather than recant his beliefs; Christ was crucified
after spreading His message of love and peace. Joan of Arc was burned at
the stake, and Thomas More beheaded. In Shakespeare's King Lear,
the noblest character, Cordelia, is ordered hanged by the villainous Edgar.
In Charles Dickens's A Tale of Two Cities, Sidney Carton goes to
the guillotine to save the life of the husband of the woman Carton loves.
Pride is the harbinger
of destruction. Julius Caesar well knows that Cassius poses a threat
to him. In Act I, Caesar, upon noticing Cassius in a crowd, tells Antony:
“Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look. / He thinks too much: such men
are dangerous" (1. 2. 204-205) In other words, Cassius is hungry for revolution,
reprisal, against the man he envies; he would bring him to ruin. Nevertheless,
Caesar says he does not fear Cassius, “for always I am Caesar" (1. 2. 222),
meaning he is the greatest of men and therefore invincible. And so, in
the plumage of his pride, Caesar makes himself an easy target for Cassius
and his other enemies. A Bible verse encapsulates Caesar’s haughtiness:
Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall. (Prov.
political ambition breeds great political enmity. The conspiracy against
the politically ambitious Caesar begins to form after other government
leaders—in particular, Cassius—perceive
him as power-hungry.
Deceit wears the garb
of innocence. While conniving behind Caesar’s back, his enemies pretend
to be his friends.
Recognize and heed warnings.
“Beware the ides of March," a soothsayer tells Caesar (1. 2. 23). But Caesar
ignores the warning. He also brushes off the threat he perceives from Cassius
Later, he ignores the warnings of his wife, who tells him of many omens
that bode ill for him if he leaves home on March 15 (the Ides of March)
to go to the senate. Apparently, in his arrogance, Caesar believes he is
invulnerable to the machinations of the conspirators; he is an Achilles
without a weak spot.
Words are powerful weapons.
Daggers kill Caesar, but it is the suasion of Cassius and others that seal
his fate. And it is the rhetoric of Mark Antony—in
particular, in his funeral oration—that turns
the people against the conspirators.
One man’s hero is another
man’s villain. Caesar and Brutus are each a villain and each a hero,
depending upon the philosophical and moral vantage points of the observers.
As Barbara Mowat and Paul Werstine observe: "Many people in the Renaissance
were passionately interested in the story of Caesar's death at the hands
of his friends and fellow politicians. There was much debate about who
were the villains and who were the heroes. According to the fourteenth-century
Italian poet Dante, Brutus and Cassius, the foremost of the conspirators
who killed Caesar, were traitors who deserved an eternity in hell. But,
in the view of Shakespeare's contemporary Sir Philip Sydney, Caesar was
a rebel threatening Rome, and Brutus was the wisest of senators. Shakespeare's
dramatization of Caesar's assassination and its aftermath has kept this
debate alive among generations of readers and playgoers."—Mowat,
Barbara, and Paul Werstine, Eds. The New Folger Shakespeare Library:
Julius Caesar. New York: Washington Square Press, Published by Pocket
Books, 1972 (Page ix).
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climax of a play or another literary work, such as a short story or a novel,
can be defined as (1) the turning point at which the conflict begins to
resolve itself for better or worse, or as (2) the final and most exciting
event in a series of events. There are three key events in Julius Caesar
that each appear to qualify as the climax: first, the meeting of the conspirators
at which they approve the plan to kill Caesar; second, the assassination
of Caesar; and, third, the deaths of Cassius and Brutus, ending all hope
of retaining republican government. However, only one of these events appears
to meet the requirements of both parts of the definition of climax—the
assassination of Caesar. Nevertheless, it is not unreasonable to argue
that either of the other two events is the climax, as many Shakespeare
scholars have done.
Caesar ranks among Shakespeare's finest plays, in part because of its
highly effective imagery. Among the many and varied figures of speech in
the play are the following:
Anaphora With Metaphor,
Alliteration, and Hyperbole
blocks, you stones, you worse than senseless things! (1. 1. 27)
Simile With Hyperbole and
In a metaphor,
Marullus compares commoners to inanimate objects. The line also contains
alliteration (stones, senseless) and hyperbole and paradox (the spectators
have less sense than senseless things).
repetition of you
comparison of spectators to inanimate objects
exaggeration saying that the spectators have less sense than senseless
Why, man, he doth bestride
the narrow world
Like a Colossus, and we
Walk under his huge legs
and peep about
To find ourselves dishonourable
graves. (1. 2. 143-146)
In a simile,
Cassius likens Caesar to a colossus (giant); in a hyperbole, he exaggerates
Caesar’s size. The line also contains alliteration (we and walk; his and
Likening Caesar to a colossus (giant)
exaggeration of Caesar's size
walk; his, huge
I know he would not be a
But that he sees the Romans
are but sheep:
He were no lion, were not
Romans hinds. (1. 3. 111-113)
Cassius and Brutus, compares Caesar to a wolf and a lion and the Roman
citizens to sheep and hinds.
Since Cassius first did
whet me against Caesar,
I have not slept. (2. 1.
himself to a knife that Cassius has sharpened (did whet).
Irony in the Funeral Oration
Shamest thou to show thy
dangerous brow by night,
When evils are most free?
O, then by day
Where wilt thou find a cavern
To mask thy monstrous visage?
Seek none, conspiracy;
Hide it in smiles and affability:
For if thou path, thy native
Not Erebus itself were dim
To hide thee from prevention.
(2. 1. 86-94)
apostrophe and personification, addressing conspiracy as if it were a person,
as well as alliteration (thou and thy; where and wilt; mask and monstrous).
In an allusion, he refers to Erebus, the Greek god who personified darkness.
In a hyperbole, he says that not even the darkness would be dim enough
to hide the conspiracy unless appropriate measures are taken to conceal
and Personification: Addressing conspiracy as if it were a person
thou, thy; where, wilt; mask, monstrous
Erebus, a reference to the Greek god who personified darkness; also, the
dark passage through which the souls of the dead pass from earth to Hades
exaggeration saying that not even the darkest of places, Erebus, would
not be dim enough to hide the conspiracy unless appropriate measures are
taken to conceal it
Antony's funeral oration in Act III, Scene II—beginning
with "Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears"—is
throughout. Though Antony says that he comes to bury Caesar, not to
praise him, he praises Caesar for swelling the treasuries of Rome,
sympathizing with the poor, and three times refusing the crown Antony offered
him. At the same time, Antony praises Brutus—one
of Caesar's assassins—as
man even though the tenor of his speech implies otherwise. Near the
end of the speech, Antony says, "O judgment! thou art fled to brutish beasts,
/ And men have lost their reason." The word brutish occurs after
Antony has mentioned Brutus by name nine times. It seems brutish
is a not-so-oblique reference to Brutus..
number three appears to symbolize baleful occurrences. Consider the following
events involving the number three:
Mark Antony offers Caesar
the crown three times.
In ancient times, the number
three was sometimes associated with Pluto (Greek: Hades), the god of death.
The conspirators break up
their meeting at three o'clock.
Calpurnia, Caesar's wife,
cries out three times in her sleep Help, ho! they murder Caesar!
Cassius tells Casca that
Brutus is almost won to the conspiracy, saying, "Three parts of him is
Antony, belittling Lepidus,
says, "Is it fit, the three-fold world divided, he should stand one of
the three to share it?
critic Mark Van Doren wrote the following about the speech patterns in
Caesar is least notable among Shakespeare's better plays for the distinctions
of its speech. All of its persons tend to talk alike; their training has
been forensic and therefore uniform, so that they can say anything with
both efficiency and ease. With Marullus's first speech in the opening scene
the play swings into its style: a style which will make it appear that
nobody experiences the least difficulty in saying what he thinks. The phrasing
is invariably flawless from the oral point of view; the breathing is right;
no thought is too long for order or too short for roundness. Everything
is brilliantly and surely said; the effects are underlined, the i's
are firmly dotted. Speeches have tangible outlines, like plastic objects,
and the drift of one of them to another has never to be guessed, for it
is clearly stated."—Van Doren, Mark. Quoted in Twentieth Century Interpretations
of Julius Caesar. Leonard F. Dean, Ed. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice
is believed that a surgical incision had to be made through the abdominal
wall and uterus of the mother of Julius Caesar in order to extract him
at birth. This belief gave rise to the term "Cesarean birth" (or "Caesarean
birth"). Thus, a knife was used to give Caesar life, and many knives were
used to end his life.
Questions and Essay Topics
on DVD (or VHS)
tells Caesar to beware of the ides of March [March 15]. What is a soothsayer?Does
the soothsayer really know the future? Or is he merely a good political
analyst (or psychologist) who can see trouble coming?
motivated more by personal ambition or love for Caesar?
the villain in the play? Is there a hero?
had lived in 44 B.C., Caesar's last year in power, would you have sided
with Caesar or Brutus?
were to give his funeral oration in this technological age, where would
he deliver it?
believe assassination of a head of state can ever be justified?
of 20th Century leaders killed by assassins. Explain why these leaders
were targets of assassins.
everyday life like for an ordinary citizen of Rome?
Antony's funeral oration—plays an important role in this play. How important
for a politician in ancient Rome was the ability to speak skillfully in
public? Did young Roman nobles receive special training in oratory?
an essay explaining the role and status of women in Caesar's time.
a villain or a hero? Even though he led the conspiracy against Julius Caesar,
Marcus Junius Brutus (84-42 B.C.) enjoyed a reputation in his day among
Roman republicans as a noble and fair-minded statesman. However, his opponents—notably
supporters of Caesar—regarded him as a traitor. First, Brutus sided with
Pompey the Great against Caesar when the Roman Civil War started in 49
B.C. After Caesar defeated Pompey at Pharsalus, Greece, in 48 B.C., he
pardoned Brutus and appointed him governor of Cisalpine Gaul in 46 B.C.
and a praetor of Rome in 44 B.C. But Brutus turned against Caesar a second
time, helping to organize and lead the conspiracy that led to Caesar’s
assassination in 44 B.C. Brutus believed the action was necessary to prevent
Caesar from becoming dictator-for-life, meaning that all power would reside
in Caesar and not in the delegates representing the people. Was Brutus
a traitorous villain or selfless hero? In an argumentative essay, take
a stand on this question. Use the facts of history—as well as interpretations
of these facts, including Shakespeare’s depiction of Brutus—to support
essay, compare and contrast the common people of ancient Rome with the
common people of modern America, Britain, or another country.
essay, compare and contrast Cassius and Brutus.
and the whims of fate play a role in Julius Caesar. Write an expository
(informative) essay that explains the attitude of the typical ancient Roman
toward charms, omens, gods, the whims of fate, and the supernatural in
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